Translating Europe, in action

A translator «is a writer with nothing to say,» announced Peter Bergsma, director of Translators’ House Amsterdam. And that’s a good thing, he argued, because it means they can avoid the temptation to interpolate their own ideas into the texts they work on. «In the 1960s,» he said, «there were many writers in the Netherlands who were also translators, and they weren’t modest enough. They tended to introduce their own voice into works they translated. I believe the translator should be completely invisible.» Bergsma and his colleagues Francoise Wuilmart and Francoise Cartano were speaking at «Translating Europe,» an event held Monday in honor of International Translation Day. Helene Zervas, director of the European Translation Center (EKEMEL) and organizer of the event, posed a different question to each speaker. Asked whether a translator was a writer, Bergsma said that in terms of technique they should be better than writers, because they should be able to render any style. «In the past two years I have translated both Coetzee and Faulkner, writers who have nothing in common,» he said. «I don’t think they could ‘write’ each other.» Empathy By contrast, Wuilmart, director of the College Europeen des Traducteurs in Seneffe, Belgium, insisted she could only translate writers with whom she had some empathy, and that was regardless of whether she agreed with their views. She cited the example of a Marxist work she had translated: «I am not a Marxist but the author’s approach is so close to my own that I was able to translate his book.» Her topic was the classic accusation: «Traduttore, traditore!» (Translator, traitor!). «The real traitor does it intentionally,» said Wuilmart. «The bad translator, who has not been trained, who doesn’t know his job, will inevitably betray the text. A good translator, on the other hand is forced to ‘betray’ the text because each culture and language reflects a different approach, a different world-view. For instance, the rich, subtle tenses of English cannot be translated directly in tense-poor German.» But, she argued, a good translator «will employ techniques and subterfuges to get the message across, to get the effects the writer gets.» Arguing for translation that renders the text’s multiplicity of meanings, Wuilmart recommended translators’ workshops as the best form of training. «The principal advantage is that each practitioner arrives with his own reading of the text and hears the readings of others.» Cartano, translator of more than 100 works, mainly fiction, is director of the College International des Traducteurs Litteraires in Arles. She spoke about the professional recognition of translators in Europe. «Translators themselves must insist on proper payment. Conditions have improved in France over the past 25 years, she explained, because more works in translation are published, and translators themselves have pushed for better pay.» Noting that many translators in Eastern Europe are poorly paid, she spoke of the need for solidarity with fellow-practitioners. She contrasted translation with professions like the theater that have a higher profile, noting that well-known actors have used their clout on behalf of their poorer-paid colleagues. Proper training is essential, said Cartano, who deplored in particular the shortage of translators qualified to work on texts from the social sciences. Promoting RECIT Peter Bergsma, Francoise Wuilmart and Francoise Cartano, who spoke at the Translating Europe event, came to Athens on Monday directly from a successful three-day conference at the House of Literature on Paros, where seven of RECIT’s 12 members met to explore ways of enhancing and promoting the organization’s work. The outcome of their discussion was an agreement to publish an annual publication in print and digital form on issues and views related to translation, to encourage the establishment of translation centers in countries that have not yet set up such centers, and to endow a prize for a young translator. The Athens-based European Translation Center (EKEMEL) will be in charge of securing funding for all these projects from European Union programs.